Kiss me, you human

June 28, 2001

You needn’t have taken a philosophy course to see A.I., the new Steven Spielberg movie, but you may wish you’d enrolled in Philosophy 101 by the time you exit the cinema. A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), is a futuristic story in which a robot resembling an 11-year-old boy embarks on a Pinocchio-like quest to become human. Mr. Spielberg’s movie posits the idea that machines can develop self-awareness, and even understand love. Is Spielberg’s premise as far-fetched as “E.T.” flying a bicycle past the moon? Not according to Ray Kurzweil, who is something of a superstar in the AI community, currently made up of hundreds of corporations and universities across the world.

In his book The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, Dr. Kurzweil predicts that computers will come to replicate the full range of human intelligence. It’s the astonishing growth in real-world artificial-intelligence technology that is forcing thinkers, theologians, philosophers, and the public to reexamine some age-old fundamental philosophical questions with a new vigor and urgency. Is it possible to replicate human consciousness in machines? If so, then what does that tell us about consciousness? What does it mean to be human?

“What’s really at issue in the debate are fundamental metaphysical theological convictions about the fundamental reality of things¬†— is mind reducible to mechanism or to computation?” says Jay Richards, co-editor of the forthcoming book¬† Are We Spiritual Machines? for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. “The great thing about [artificial intelligence] is that there aren’t a lot of subjects that can bring high-level philosophical disputes into the public sphere.” […]